August 2009 in Network Rail and Suppliers
A reporter is concerned that track workers in the Lincoln area are no longer allowed to park on level crossings to load trolleys with equipment. Prior to the change, workers would be able to park on a level crossing near the work site with their hazard warning lights on. This would typically take place after a possession had been taken, allowing for the convenient loading of trolleys with equipment. The whole process would take no more than 10 to 12 minutes.
Track workers have now been instructed to park their work vans in a lay-by, and carry the equipment along the road to the trolley. The trolley itself also has to be well clear of the level crossing, resulting in workers having to carry equipment along the track and sometimes over cattle grids to reach it.
It can be dangerous for staff to carry heavy equipment on uneven ground along busy roads. Apart from the extra physical strain, the traffic poses a danger and it can be hazardous to walk over cattle grids with equipment.
Staff have been told that the change has to do with the highway code, but It appears that it has only been implemented in the Lincoln area.
The reporter would like to know: why track workers are no longer allowed to park on level crossings to load a trolley; if Network Rail has assessed the risks brought about by the change in procedure; if Network Rail consider reinstating the old procedure of loading trolleys on level crossings if the new risk is deemed higher than the old one; and is this procedure being adopted nationwide or just in Lincolnshire?
Network Rail would like to thank the reporter for raising their concerns. This gives us the opportunity to work as a team and resolve these concerns.
Whilst it is correct that the teams in Lincoln delivery unit have been instructed to change the way they load/unload their vehicles at level crossings, the instruction was not as simple as "do not park on level crossings". The reporter‟s concerns are understandable, as the instructions recently implemented require a change of working practice that may be perceived to increase risk to the individual. However, these instructions protect both the company and the staff and have been implemented to ensure we minimise both physical and legal risk.
Deliberate obstruction of a public highway, excluding emergencies, may be considered a nuisance in common law. Parking on a level crossing whilst the road is open to public use is against the Highway Code (see Highway Code rule 291). If a member of the public is obstructed from going about their business the individual causing the obstruction and Network Rail are at risk. If an accident occurs whilst a member of the public is attempting to pass an obstruction on a level crossing the individual causing the obstruction and Network Rail are at risk. In both cases this risk can be mitigated by avoiding the situation.
The changes implemented across Lincoln delivery unit require that teams wishing to access/egress the railway at a level crossing do so in such a way as to make certain that they do not obstruct a public highway, or park on a level crossing that is open to public use.
It has been made clear that a public footpath has equivalent rights of access and cannot be obstructed by the trolley whilst it is loaded, but this does not mean staff have to carry equipment across anti-trespass guards or along the track. Staff are not being asked to carry out a new activity or an activity that they have not received training for.
Options available are: Park just beyond the level crossing and carry equipment back to load the trolley, which should be situated adjacent to, but not obstructing the footpath or carriageway. Utilise a different access point within the possession and once loaded walk the trolley to the worksite. Ensure a road and footpath closure are requested and in place thus allowing vehicles to be parked on the level crossing.
During discussions with supervisors and staff it has been made clear that each level crossing will have to be assessed as an access point at the time of use, as conditions can vary due to weather, underfoot conditions, time of day, and road traffic volume. All staff have been trained in manual handling and if they deem the site unsuitable with no alternative available they can, and on one occasion have, invoke the worksafe procedure.
This report has highlighted a need for further briefing to ensure a clear and unambiguous understanding. This briefing will be arranged in the very near future.